What Climate Change Means for France’s Famed Wine Regions

by Julia Fine, ODP Contributing Writer

Climate change is transforming the taste of Burgundy wine grapes, National Geographic reported. According to a study published last year out of Climate of the Past, which examined almost 700 years of wine records from Beaune, France,  from 1354 until 1987, grapes were “on average picked from 28 September on.” By contrast, from 1988-2018, harvest season started 13 days earlier. As Reuters explained, this also means that winemakers are being forced to abandon time-honored techniques as hotter summers boost the sugar content of grapes, resulting in wines having higher alcohol content and different flavors.

Why This Matters: The changing taste of your Chardonnay is obviously not the biggest victim of climate change. But rising temperatures do have the potential to destroy this major and historic industry which is a mainstay of many economies. As National Geographic reported, in Southern France, “grape leaves burned on the vine and the overstressed fruit withered.” While Burgundy has thus far escaped such catastrophic consequences, “it’s probably coming,” wine scientist Jean-Marc Touzard told National Geographic. 

A Record of Climate Change: Besides predicting the future impacts on the wine industry, wine records also tell an incontrovertible story of climate change in Europe. As biologist Elizabeth Wolkovich told NatGeo, “Grape harvest date records are the longest records of phenology in Europe.” According to her, we can use the “hundreds of years of records of what the summer temp was…like a thermometer.” The study of Beaune’s records demonstrated the “rapid warming” that has occurred in the past 30 years.

Wine Makers Adapt: CEO Magazine reported recently that winemakers around the world are adjusting to this new normal. As they wrote, “some vintners put up vine canopies to create shade, while others are changing their trellising system to better manage the canopy.” Some even are planting heat- and drought-tolerant varieties of grape. 

But will this be enough? The rapid warming demonstrated by the Beaune study 

suggests perhaps not. Radical action on climate change, not solely palliative action, needs to be taken to save this major, worldwide industry. Even if the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement are met, The Guardian pointed out, temperatures “will continue to rise for decades,” impacting wine industries worldwide. And, as we reported last year, if the global temperature rises by 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit in this century, suitable wine-growing regions of the world could shrink by up to 56%. 

 

Rethinking the Grapes Altogether: Winemakers are also planning for a future where iconic grape varietals can no longer flourish in their traditional growing zones. In California’s Napa Valley, winemakers are teaming up with scientists to predict the varietals that could be grown in the region as the planet warms (as the highly specific microclimates in Napa are what make its cabernets so renowned and valuable). 

Likewise in Bordeaux, the wine capital of the world, experimental laboratories have emerged, dedicated to finding new flavors of wine that are adaptable to the changing climate. As TIME Magazine reported, French winemakers are experimenting with vines from other parts of the world, from Italian Sangiovese to Greek Assyrtiko, that can withstand higher temperatures, to see if they can survive in Bordeaux. Their hope is to find a new flavor that can replace the region’s iconic Merlot, which makes up 60% of vineyards in Bordeaux.

Up Next

What “Climate Anxiety” Truly Means for California

What “Climate Anxiety” Truly Means for California

by Miro Korenha, co-founder/publisher of Our Daily Planet Like many West Coast transplants to the East, I’ve spent the past decade feeling torn between the city where my professional life is rooted and my home state of California where my family lives. This summer seemed like an opportunity to have the best of both worlds: […]

Continue Reading 829 words

Historic Floods Threaten Sudan’s Economy and Ancient Pyramids

After heavy seasonal rains late last month and in early September, in Sudan, the White Nile and the Blue Nile, its main tributary, have flooded, causing the death of over 100 people and the damage of over 100,000 homes, leaving hundreds of thousands homeless. 

Why this matters:  Climate change-related flooding is devastating the country. More than 500,000 people have been affected in 17 of the country’s 18 states.

Continue Reading 472 words
China’s Surprise Commitment to Be Carbon Neutral by 2060

China’s Surprise Commitment to Be Carbon Neutral by 2060

Yesterday at the annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly, Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged to achieve “carbon neutrality before 2060” with the aim of hitting peak emissions before 2030. China had choice words for the Trump administration and its complete lack of international leadership on climate change action. Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang […]

Continue Reading 445 words

Want the planet in your inbox?

Subscribe to the email that top lawmakers, renowned scientists, and thousands of concerned citizens turn to each morning for the latest environmental news and analysis.